George (Papa Bear) Halas. Vince Lombardi. Frozen tundra.
The beauty for a professional sports business of operating its own propaganda engine is it can imprint images and words and the sound of a great, iconic voice into the minds of the faithful, creating its own mythology.
That the NFL has done, magnificently, through the genius of NFL Films, which can make even the most mediocre season by the most mediocre team seem … well … hopeful.
But what happens Sunday will require little manipulation, and play directly into the narrative that must be heard in the sonorous tones of the late John Facenda: the Chicago Bears versus the Green Bay Packers at ancient Soldier Field for the National Football Conference championship - the renewal of the oldest rivalry in American professional football, though through a quirk of history the first time those storied franchises have met in the playoffs since 1941, a week after the attack on Pearl Harbour.
For the NFL, aside from all of its virtues as a football matchup, it is a perfect nostalgia play - though the truth is, the league has a slightly more arm's length relationship to its glorious past than do some other pro sports.
Baseball, for instance, makes a fetish of its long history, and its most beloved parks are true museum pieces, places where to walk through the gates is to walk back in time - back to an era, that is, when the game was unequivocally No. 1 in the United States. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and the rest are evergreen figures, living on forever in shades of black and white, underscored by a Ken Burns soundtrack.
And in hockey, though all of the old arenas are long gone, there is still for true believers the cult of the Original Six, a time when you knew all the players, you could see their faces, when the sport was played only in places that actually experienced winter, when the game can be imagined as simpler, and better, and more pure.
For the NFL to go all the way back to its origins would mean remembering a time when it was a rag-tag operation, playing in secondary markets like Green Bay in front of small crowds, when teams came and went and the sport was overshadowed not just by baseball, but by the U.S. college version of its own game. It wasn't so long ago at all that Art Rooney ran the Pittsburgh Steelers out of a hotel suite, a true mom-and-pop business.
So aside from a few passing references to the leather helmet days, the NFL prefers to date its modern history only from the 1958 championship game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts - which may not have been "the greatest game ever played," as goes the familiar billing, but which was certainly the moment when it became clear that football and the evolving medium of television were an absolutely perfect fit, establishing the path to dominance that the league follows to this day.
Other than that, beyond the odd appearance of throwback uniforms, the NFL is about "right now," or at least about a past only as distant as the first of those Roman numeral Super Bowls.
Sunday's game, then, is a novelty, a time to recall legendary coaches and ancient dynasties and to see the modern game played on the same field - yes, they've renovated the inside of the stadium; yes, until 1971, the Bears, nee the Decatur (Ill.) Staleys, played their games at Wrigley Field - where some of the great chapters of 20th century sport were written.
Halas might not have recognized the Mike Martz offence the Bears play these days, but he would certainly understand that Jay Cutler, for all of his unappealing personality tics, is the best starting quarterback to wear a Bears uniform since a guy he coached - Sid Luckman. And there is a timeless quality in Aaron Rodgers's perfect passing mechanics for the Packers, and in the way he takes charge like a Bart Starr (or a Brett Favre).
The two defences, though they feature the supermen who are the stars of the contemporary game, are also populated by that football perennial: tough, borderline-nasty fellows determined to tackle the guy with the ball.
These players are bigger and faster and fitter, far more specialized and far better paid than their ancestors. Their coaches benefit from great cadres of assistants, from replay technology and sports science and decades of accumulated knowledge. But in both dressing rooms, before they head out onto the frozen turf, the team will crowd around, and Mike McCarthy and Lovie Smith will say something about self-belief, and then they'll run into the cold with steam pouring out of their nostrils like race horses.
It could be a scene from a film.
It has been a scene from a film.